I apologize for not posting anything in awhile. I have been pretty busy these last few days working on lots of projects, both for grad school and a few personal ones. Not to mentioned being distracted by Jess (“Hi” if you are reading). Nevertheless, I am free (for now) and have decided to blog on N.T. Wright’s newest book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. Wright does something very well which nobody (to my knowledge) can do, and that is to wear the hat of the New Testament scholar as well as the engaging Christian pastor. Believe me, I have tried doing both and it is near impossible to do both well at the same time. Both of these skills are evident in this book. Today I will discuss my feelings on the first chapter.
Wright starts the book of saying something which I have grown to believe and cherish: ‘the final hope of Christians is not simply “going to heaven,” but resurrection into God’s new creation, the “new heaven and the new earth.” Although him and I differ on the nature of the intermediate state (Wright thinks it will be conscious while I see the it as an unconscious ‘sleep’) we both agree that the final inheritance for believers will be on a renewed earth with no suffering, war, hunger, pain, or death. As my friend Victor always says, “Everything wrong with the world will one day be made right.” Once this is settled, then our lives, which live between the cross on one hand and the future return of Jesus on the other, beg the interim question, “What am I here for?” This is the title of Wright’s first chapter.
A few examples are given of real-life conversations and situations that many modern day Christians find themselves in. Different thoughts, questions, and confusions arise from their interaction with this world and those who live within it. Wright, correctly in my opinion, points out that most believers really are struggling with one question:
What is the point of being a Christian—other than to go to heaven one day, and perhaps to persuade a few others to go with you? Is there any reason for doing anything much, after you believe, except to keep your nose reasonable clean until the time comes to die and go to be with Jesus forever?…If we are already saved, why does what we do matter?
Wright correctly suggests that there is, as he puts it, another bridge which has been ignored but will carry the weight and join both river banks in fine style. What he means, although he has yet to unpack it, is that this line of thinking is misguided and misses the grand perspective of the Bible which is God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.
The rest of the chapter goes on to develop the themes of ‘character’ and ‘virtue.’ Stories are given of good and bad examples of these traits. His point is well made: “virtue, to put it bluntly, is a revolutionary idea in today’s world—and today’s church. But the revolution is one we badly need.” I absolutely agree with this, although Wright words it much better than I ever could. His examples of the pilot who successfully landed the plane in the New York Bay after an engine failure and the father who dove into a river after his three year old sinking daughter prove what virtue is. During those moments of climax, where a make or break set of choices need to be made, those who have practices the disciplines to the point where it becomes ‘second nature’ at those that will find success. This same mentality, Wright argues, should be carried over into the Christian lifestyle after one becomes a believer.
I did appreciate what he had to say about the type of virtue and how it is labeled. Some will look at Christian ethics as a list of things ‘to do’ and to ‘not do.’ Wright points out that since Christians are “the new humanity,” then the ‘Christian’ label, as distinct from other religions, does not go far enough. He then goes on to answer the question which has been hanging since the beginning of the chapter:
What we are “here for” is to become genuine human beings, reflecting the God in whose image we’re made, and doing so in worship on the one hand and in mission, in its full and large sense, on the other; and that we do this not least by “following Jesus.”
I look forward to the rest of the book. The next chapter is entitled ‘The Transformation of Character.’